Letter from Jeff Coyne
Former member of the O'Bannon campaign team
Director of Government and Political Affairs
“Stand on your Principles or Stand on your Head.” This quote was in the signature line of my mentor’s personal AOL emails. This upcoming week, I will reflect more on this man because this is the 20th anniversary of his passing. That man was Governor Frank O’Bannon.
When I got out of college in 1995, I wanted to change the world. I had dreams of working in Washington, D.C.; however, so does every idealistic political science major when they get out of school. At the age of 23, you can be more idealistic than at 51 years of age. The Rolling Stones said succinctly, “You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you'll find, you get what you need”. Moving to Indiana and working for his campaign as his driver and staffer was what I needed. Looking back, it was a graduate degree in what our politics should be and what we should have as an elected official.
Some items he taught me while we traversed 75,000 miles in a car together were listening, staying true to your beliefs, serving with humility, compromise, and always being on time.
When it came to listening, Gov. O’Bannon would say to me, never assume what someone may be thinking; listen to them and their stories. Sometimes, a solution can come up because it was something you did not think of, or that person has an experience that you did not. I guess this came from his years serving in the State Senate, where he would work with all parties to develop solutions. If we talk over one another, nothing can get accomplished. Sure, twenty years ago, there was no social media. People can go off on a tangent at any time. We live in a time where we are entertained by hosts and guests giving their point of view with little differentiating opinion; it is just an echo chamber. However, if we listened more to other points of view, maybe we could overcome some of what divides us. It doesn’t mean we will agree, but it helps you understand where they are coming from.
By staying with your true beliefs, serving with humility and compromise, all are tied to the person he was. Governor O’Bannon was the person you saw on TV. He grew up in the small town of Corydon, and those life lessons of what made him who he was stuck with him. He realized that no matter what his elected position, the Governor was the caretaker of that office, and he wanted to lift up all that he represented. It didn’t matter where you came from, you could be living in public housing or a mansion on Geist Reservoir; he treated everyone respectfully. He wanted to make Indiana a better place to work, live, and raise a family. When elected to office, he always wanted to make the most of it with the time he was graced to occupy. When it came to compromise, he did not see that as a weakness. He saw it as a strength. It is a shame that our politics today have become so bitter that if a member of one party is seen in a public establishment having dinner or a drink with someone of the opposing party, they are called a sell-out or worse, the extremes of both parties try to run someone against them at the next primary election. No one side of the aisle has all of the answers. Only by working together can we solve what ills our state and nation.
Lastly, he always wanted to be early or on time. He would say to me, Jeff, I am no more important than those who I am meeting or visiting with. Their time is just as precious as his. You must remember this was before GPS in our cars and phones. However, I was never to speed in the car because he would have the officer double my ticket if I got caught. It's a great lesson to get rid of as a lead-footed 23-year-old.
Have I been as successful as he was with what he taught me, probably not. However, I have kept these and all of what I learned from him and Judy O’Bannon all these years. They took in an out-of-state kid just out of college and showed me what was good about being a public servant, and I will never forget the lessons, kindness, and, most importantly, their friendship. Governor O’Bannon, all of us who enjoyed working for you are so much better off because of it. Your wisdom, wit, and presence are sorely missed, but your legacy will live on from those you touched. I would not be where I am today without what I learned from you. All I can say with much gratitude is, Thank You!
Remembering Governor Frank O'Bannon